Four Unlikely Heroes Who Have Been Instrumental to the Guardians Success in 2024

The Cleveland Guardians have exceeded expectations so far in 2024, with some unlikely sources playing crucial roles in their early success.

DENVER, CO - MAY 28: David Fry #6 of the Cleveland Guardians hits a three run home run during the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 28, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Guardians finished the 2023 season with a disappointing third-place finish in the AL Central. With a 76-86 record, seven games under their 2023 ZiPS projected record, they were a far cry off of their 2022 season. Where they made a run to the ALDS after winning the AL Central with 92 wins.

So when 2024 came around, hopes were subdued despite being in what was supposed to be a weak AL Central division. Given the makeup of their division though, with rebuilding teams like the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, and a Minnesota Twins team that conservatively shed payroll due to a loss in TV revenues, the Guardians were still projected to top the Central with 85 wins.

Fast forward to June 10th and the Guardians are 20 games over .500, sit 4.0 games atop their division, they’re one of just three major league teams with 40 or more wins. Their ZiPS projection for the rest of the season sees them finishing with 90 wins.

Now the usual suspects have played a role in their success like third baseman Jose Ramirez, who’s leading the the league in RBIs with 62 through 63 games, and Emmanuel Clase, who’s tied for the major league lead in reliever fWAR with 1.3 and is second in saves with 19.

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But there have been some players that have been unlikely sources of success for the Guardians who’ve performed admirably this season.

And the Guardians have needed these performances given the injury adversity they’ve faced with ace Shane Bieber undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, outfielder Steven Kwan spending a majority of May on the injured list, and two key relievers, Trevor Stephan and James Karinchak, being placed on the 60-day IL.

All the following stats were taken prior to play on June 9th

David Fry (C,1B,OF)

In 2023 David Fry appeared in 58 games with 113 plate appearances for the Guardians. In that time he only managed to slash .238/.319/.416 with a -0.1 fWAR and 106 wRC+.

However in 2024, Fry has managed to surpass his 2023 stat-line to the point where surpass seems like an understatement. In 45 games and 155 plate appearances Fry is slashing .336/.465/.598 with a 2.1 fWAR and a 201 wRC+.

While hitting .336 and slugging .598 may not be an entirely sustainable pace for the course of the entire season. According to Baseball Savant, Fry projects well amongst the league in terms of expected metrics.

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He ranks in the 83rd percentile in expected batting average at .280 and is in the 73rd percentile in expected SLG at .459. Although both of those marks trail his actual production, so some regression could be expected.

Fry has also had a great approach at the plate in 2024. He ranks in the 98th percentile in walk rate, the 90th percentile in chase rate and he ranks in the 91st percentile when it comes to finding the sweet spot.

Fry finding the sweet spot at such a high rate can be explained by his ability to hit multiple pitches at a high rate. He’s currently hitting .318 against fastballs, .318 against breaking pitches and .500 against off-speed offerings.

And in terms of specific pitches, the four pitches Fry has seen the most this season are four-seam fastballs, sliders, sinkers and changeups, none of which he hits below a .300 average or a .500 SLG.

Four-Seam FastballSlider SinkerChangeup
Pitches Faced1531449358
David Fry’s Top 4 Pitches seen in 2024

Fry’s positional versatility has also been a huge advantage to Cleveland in 2024.

Fry has appeared in 15 games behind the plate, eight of which have been starts in 2024. Having a bat as strong as Fry’s this season in the Guardians catchers mix has been incredibly valuable to them considering both Bo Naylor and Austin Hedges have been very underwhelming offensively.

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David Fry.336.473.6022032.0
Bo Naylor.170.247.259480.2
Austin Hedges.115.145.192-6-0.2
Guardians Catchers Offensively in 2024

Fry’s has also started at first base eight times this season, which has offered Josh Naylor the ability to get off of his feet more often to either DH or have an off day.

And Fry’s ability to play in the outfield field has been especially valuable to the Guardians this season given the fact their regular left fielder and high average hitter Steven Kwan missed a majority of May with injury.

Ben Lively (SP)

When Shane Bieber went down for the season in early April, Ben Lively was activated off the IL not too long after. The sporadic major leaguer in Lively, who put up a 5.38 ERA across 88.2 innings last season in Cincinnati, certainly didn’t have the track record to compare to 2020 Cy Young Award winner in Bieber who had 0.00 ERA in his first two starts in 2024.

But Lively has been excellent since being inserted into the Guardians rotation. Through 10 starts and 55.2 innings pitched so far this season, he sports a 2.59 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, both the lowest among all active starters in the Guardians rotation.

Lively has been one of the few consistent sources of quality in a mediocre Guardians staff in 2024, who rank 18th in starter ERA, 24th in starter WHIP, and as a whole have compiled the lowest total fWAR in MLB.

Lively has also never sacrificed more than three earned runs in any of starts this season, and has pitched at least 5.0 innings in nine of his 10 starts.

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Lively isn’t necessarily a flashy pitcher. His sinker averages at 90.2 mph this season and his four-seam fastball at just 89.8 mph. And he’s also middle of the pack in strikeout and walk rates, ranking in the 56th and 59th percentile respectively.

But with a 6-2 record and a 2.59 ERA, he hasn’t needed to be flashy with high strikeout rates and blistering fastballs to find success this year.

Where Lively has found great success in 2024 has been with his sweeper. Hitters are only hitting .209 and slugging .326 against it and whiffing 25.3% of the time at it.

And he projects to be a solid starting option for Cleveland the rest of the way, sporting a respectable 3.57 expected ERA and .236 expected batting average against. Considering the fact that he was signed on a minor league deal, and still holds team control through the 2028 season, Lively has been one of the best value signings from any team this past offseason.

Hunter Gaddis (RP)

In 2023 Hunter Gaddis appeared in 11 games for the Guardians, seven if which were starts. In that time he posted an uninspiring 4.50 ERA. And his Triple-A stats in 2023 looked no better, as he posted a 6.05 ERA across 74.1 innings of work in Columbus.

But in 2024, Gaddis has found new life as a full-time reliever and has worked his way into the primary set up role for the Guardians in 2024.

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He currently has sparkling 1.78 ERA with a 0.82 WHIP in 30.1 innings across 31 appearances out of the pen. And Gaddis ranks among some of the game’s best relievers in terms of advanced metrics.

He has accumulated 0.8 fWAR, ranking him in a tie for 11th alongside Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley, the major league leader in saves.

Gaddis also ranks above the 75th percentile in xERA, xBA, fastball velocity, chase rate, walk rate and barrel rate.

xERAxBAFB Velo Chase %BB%Barrel %
Total2.76.21995.9 mph32.2%4.5%3.8%
Hunter Gaddis 2024

This season Gaddis has been dominant with all three of his pitches. His fast four-seam fastball has only a .216 average and .378 slugging percentage against it. His slider is only hit at a .196 clip and slugged at just a .275 clip. And his change up is hit at just a .116 clip, and slugged at a staggeringly low .176 clip.

Cade Smith (RP)

Cade Smith came into Spring Training this season not guaranteed a spot on the Guardians Opening Day roster. He managed to do so though, seemingly being one of the last names called.

And the 2020 undrafted free-agent took the opportunity and ran with it right out of the gate in his rookie season.

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In 2024 Smith has found himself in the seventh inning role with Guardians, creating a three-headed monster in the back-end of that bullpen between himself, Gaddis in the eighth and Clase to close it out in the ninth.

It took Smith until his ninth appearance out the bullpen to register an earned run against, which has lead to his dazzling 1.82 ERA.

He has also been so dominant in his effectiveness to efficiently put hitters away. He sports 34.2% strikeout rate, ranking him in the 97th percentile.

This has been due to his unbelievable success with the fastball.

Smith throws his four-seamer over 66% of the time. He averages it at 95.5 mph ranking him in the upper 25% of pitchers.

And hitters seem to have no answers for it so far, only managing to hit .145 off it, while only slugging against it at a .217 clip.

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Across the board Smith has ranked in the 70th percentile or higher in numerous statistical categories.

xERAxBAFB VeloWhiff %K%BB%Barrel %
Total2.44.20595.5 mph29.6%35.2%6.5%4.9%
Cade Smith 2024

All of this has made Smith one of league’s most dominant relievers this season, as currently ranks tied for seventh in fWAR with 0.9, ranking alongside noteworthy names like New York Yankees closer Clay Holmes.